Brain Damage

(Broadcast on The California Report)

I was riding my bike to work more than two years ago when I found out what it was like to have a traumatic brain injury. A car, making a right turn, hit me from behind and I was flung onto the hood and the windshield. That’s the thanks I got for trying to reduce my carbon footprint. At least I got the satisfaction of totaling the car.

I have no memories from the week after my accident, a result of the brain injury and drugs that induce amnesia. I know I was in intensive care. I’m told I’d wake up and curse loudly as I tore at the tubes and braces connected to me. I had bleeding in the brain in two places. Maybe there would have been more places if I hadn’t been wearing a bike helmet.

For at least three months I had cognitive problems. I had little short term memory. I’d repeat myself and not recall what people had just told me. Once, when asked where I lived, I gave the name of a city I hadn’t lived in for a dozen years.

I wasn’t allowed to drive. This meant I occasionally asked my 82-year-old father to drive me around town. Even in my brain-damaged state I think I would have been less of a menace on the road.

My wife was patient and strong as I recovered. My two small children were… well two small children. I was short-tempered with them, especially my seven-year-old son. There was a distinct period of time when I would break out in tears very often for little or no reason.

I was working, then, as a talk show host for KPBS in San Diego. And I returned to the air as a guest on my own show, interviewed by a fill-in host. When I listen to the recording of that show today I’m stuck by how distracted and slow on the uptake I sounded.

One lesson I learned was how personal this medium of radio is. I still have a stack of cards and emails I printed up from listeners who heard about my accident and wrote to wish me well. I had become a friend of to so many people I’d never seen.

A doctor told me I’d heal up. Pretty soon, he said, I’d have a hard time remembering why I’d been in the hospital. I wish. Today, I still have burning pains in the lower part of my body. I take Vicodin for that every day.  I still can’t fall asleep at night without my sleep medication. The thing about brain injuries is you never know how they’re going to affect you. The nerve damage I got in that accident is still part of my life, and it may always be.

But I’m lucky because it could have been a lot worse. I had a family that took care of me, drove me around and fought my battles with the health care bureaucracy while I was still pretty much out of it.

I’m not glad I got hit by that car. But you learn to count your blessings. And no… I’ve never ridden a bike since.

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3 Comments on “Brain Damage”

  1. Rob Gould Says:

    You have been a familiar voice for so long and my wife recently asked me what had happened to you. I told her that you had been in an accident, she didn’t believe me, so I googled your name and found this blog, which I read to her. We wish you all the best and hope to hear you on the air one day in the future.

  2. james stouder Says:

    This is written simply and straight from the heart. Those of us who went through this with you had our own hopes and fears to deal with as we could see your struggle and secretly hoped that it would never be ours while fearing that it might. Like some medical predictions where “tomorrow” never comes, your did, in fact, recover enough to regain that major part of life that makes the effort worthwhile. Kudos to you and your struggle from all of us who took a part of it into our own lives–forever.

    • james stouder Says:

      Remember: life is a sexually transmitted disease that is 100% fatal. But that’s no reason not to enjoy it to the fullest while you can.
      ……. The Sage of Balboa Park

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